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Book Notes: Trials of the Diaspora, a History of Anti-Semitism in England, Anthony Julius

Michael Alpert

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Trials of the Diaspora, a History of Anti-Semitism in England, Anthony Julius (Oxford University Press 2010) isbn 9780199297054, pp. 880, ?25.00. I found this book - all six hundred pages of it, plus two hundred pages of references - fascinating. If the publishers were indulgent in allowing Julius two entire pages about the friction between conservatives and radicals in the Cambridge English Faculty in the 1970s, he soon relates them to the absence 227</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes of any concern with his own interest in literary anti-Semitism. Cambridge may well have been anti-Semitic twenty years earlier, when a member of the Appointments Board is reported to have made slimy comments to putative employers about Jewish undergraduates seeking jobs. At that time, however, this reviewer, at least, did not know, as Julius discovered in his time, that the St Hugh of Lincoln Society of Cambridge warned people about frequenting Jews at Passover in case they were murdered for their blood to be used to make matzot! The introduction is wordy, as indeed is the entire work, but full of inter? est. Julius writes cogently about, for instance, whether it is worth analysing anti-Semitism at all, and about the perils of selective quotation, and about the changes in Jewish historiography over the past century. A hundred pages with the titles 'Enmities' and 'Defamation' provide efficient analyses of anti Semitism and its manifestations, and a valuable introduction to the following sections: Medieval English Anti-Semitism, English Literary Anti-Semitism, Modern English Anti-Semitism, the Mentality of Modern English Anti Semitism, and Contemporary Secular and Confessional Anti-Zionisms. English anti-Semitism has been expressed as medieval blood libel and its literary reflections, as scorn and disdain, in social exclusion and, in our day, through anti-Israel attitudes. Yet only to a small extent, specifically in the interwar years, did it reflect the Continental tradition of accusing Jews of trying to overthrow society in the interests of international Communism. Julius enunciates the major characteristics of the Jewish situation in post Resettlement England, in particular Protestant attitudes towards the Old Testament and rabbinic literature, and the pervasive anti-Catholicism which perhaps diverted attention from Jews. Nevertheless, Julius stresses how Anglo-Jewish historiography has tended to play down the opposition to the Resettlement and to the 'Jew' Bill of 1753 which would have allowed the nat? uralization of unbaptized Jews. Jews were said to be deicides and proselytiz ers, to be harmful to the economy and to murder Christian children. Julius believes that too much weight has been placed on the Whiggish view which sees Anglo-Jewish history as a narrative of sustained philo-Jewish progress. Yet what, one may ask, is the relative weight of Julius's underlining of the negative in comparison with Charles IPs acceptance of the Resettlement - granted by the murderers of his father - and the rejection by the courts of attempts to expel them? Moving to other periods, Shylock and Fagin are the arch-Jewish charac? ters of English literature. To engage with Julius's opinions about The Merchant of Venice would require more space, but he shows how Oliver Twist shares some basic features with medieval blood-libels. The novel, says Julius, is about a Christian boy (but Oliver is Christian only in that he is nothing else; he does not seem to have a faith, but rather, in Dickens's words, 'a del 228</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes icacy of natural sentiment'). He is rescued by the criminal Fagin, the 'sinis? ter Jew', whose power over the boys is 'mesmeric'. Fagin menaces him (but Julius omits to say that Fagin is kinder to Oliver than either the parish beadle, Mr Bumble, or his first employers, the Sowerberry family). That Fagin is Jewish (Dickens could have called him 'Solomons' or 'Levy', but he gives him an Irish name taken from that of one of the young Dickens's workmates in the blacking factory) might be taken as anti-Semitic, except that Dickens himself justified it by the prevalence of Jews in that particular type of crime and substituted 'Fagin' for 'the Jew' in later editions of Oliver Twist. Moving on chronologically, Julius underlines that Daniel Deronda, the eponymous hero of George Eliot's novel, represents a break with both tra? ditional English literary anti-Semitism and with the admired Jews of Scott's Ivanhoe and Dickens's Mr Riah in Our Mutual Friend. The freethinker Eliot, writes Julius, 'sets an enervated, conventionally Christian set of religious observances against an energetic, impassioned Jewish piety, and a rootless English society against Jewish communal cohesion'. In contrast with the English literary inheritance of received assumptions about Jews, Eliot did know something about them through her reading, but, it might be added, not through association with Jews, save the British Museum expert Deutsch and David Mocatta. The latter may have been the person who made the com? ments to her, quoted in her Notebooks, about the 'narrowness' of the more recent arrivals in London's historic Sephardi synagogue from Morocco and Gibraltar. However, Eliot never sends Deronda to a London synagogue or seems from her Notebooks to have visited one herself. Eliot's philojudaism is somewhat of a fantasy. It is really philo-Sephardism, but Julius does not say that Deronda is Sephardi, a fact which seems more important to Eliot than his Jewishness. The ignoble Lapidoth is Ashkenazi, while his son Mordecai and his daughter Mirah, whom Eliot likes, are described as if they were Sephardim. The last quarter of this impressive book is concerned with anti-Zionism. With the decline of'golf club' prejudice, the pervasive anti-Israel stance is probably how most Jews now experience anti-Semitism. Here Julius moves out of history into contemporary polemic, for anti-Zionism or anti-Israelism denies that it is anti-Semitic and indeed sees the accusation of anti-Semitism as a weapon for refuting any criticism of Israeli action. Therefore to include the subject in this book is significant because Julius identifies resonances in anti-Zionism which echo traditional anti-Semitism, in particular the aca? demic boycotts of 2005-07 and the discourse about Jewish 'conspiracies' to silence Israel's critics. Julius sees anti-Zionism as a 'boutique mouvement', that is, not a pro? gressive set of general attitudes, but a particular single-issue campaign that easily accommodates itself to reactionary positions. He rips apart the false 229</page><page sequence="4">Book Notes and the misattributed quotations from Jewish and Israeli sources that are used by anti-Israel publicists in the press and the BBC. He deals with the trope of'Holocaust inversion', which says that the Israelis are the new Nazis and Palestinian Arabs the new victims. The arguments are too detailed to be discussed in a review, but they are enlightening and thought-provoking. This entire section could well be republished as a separate book. Two hundred pages of references demand a bibliography. As it is, if a lit? erary work or a name are not in the index (say the hostile Charles Kingsley or the friendly Charles Reade, both nineteenth-century novelists), the reader does not know whether Julius mentions them in the notes or not. Perhaps this could be remedied in another edition. Michael Alpert</page></plain_text>